Don Von Dwingelo's 1956 Ford

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An early version of Dwingelo's Thunderbird making an appearance as the "Bulleting Bird" in a magazine story by Woody Higgins.
Photo by Woody Higgins.
A second version of Don's Thunderbird as it appeared in 1959.
The third version of Don's Thunderbird made its debut at the 10th annual Hartford Autorama in 1960.
Photo from the Anthony White collection.
Don's Thunderbird at the 1961 Hartford Autorama. Photo from The Brian Frederick Photo Collection.

1956 Ford Thunderbird owned by Jane and Don Von Dwingelo of North Haledon, New Jersey.

The Bulleting Bird

An early, decked out, version of Don's Thunderbird was featured in a magazine article by Woody Higgins named "Bulleting Bird." Painted black, this version featured numerous custom accessories such as hubcaps, lakes pipes, and power antennas. The headlights had been frenched and tunneled using a combination of 1952 and 1955 Ford rings, and the gravel shields had been filled in and molded. The front of the car featured a custom grille composed by a 1958 Ford grille mesh, 1957 Ford Thunderbird molding and accessory spinner bullets. The hood was nosed and the corners were rounded before Don had 104 louvers punched into it. The stock front bumper was kept, but Don fitted it with 1957 Ford station wagon bumperettes. In the rear, seven-inch fender extensions formed taillights hoods. 1956 Mercury station wagon taillights were installed in the modified rear quarter panels. The taillights were also dressed up with bullets, and the tail-light hoods received Thunderbird emblems. A 1957 Ford Thunderbird rear bumper replaced the stock bumper. To use it, Don had to remake and reform all the sheet metal in the rear deck to fir its lines. The new metal formed a complete panel under the rear deck, around and under the taillights, extending 10 inches into the quarter panels. The gas door was filled in, and the filler was relocated to the trunk. Painted jet black, the body was dressed up with traditional pinstriping by Nor-Dee. Don did most of the work, with help from H&R Auto Body in Paterson. The interior sported rolled and pleated Naugahyde.[1]

According to Woody's article, Don's Thunderbird "uses bullets for unique decorations, and goes like a bullet, too!" Under the hood, Eelco progressive linkage operated 3 carbs on an Edelbrock manifold. Dual Sewart-Warner electric fuel pumps helped feed the mill gas.[1]

The car was lowered 1 1/2 inches in front by cutting the front coils. 3-inch blocks were installed in the rear. Heavy-duty Monro KB shocks, heavy duty springs, sway bars in front, two extra spring leaves, and Traction-Masters in the rear were also installed.[1]

Canted Quad Headlights

A second version of the car was restyled by Don and Tony Bruskivage. This version featured a custom frontal area built around 1958 Lincoln quad headlights. A new grille was fabricated to fit the new front. The rear end and quarter panels were custom made featuring 1959 Buick taillights and 1957 Studebaker Hawk fins. The front bumper was scrapped in favor of a rolled pan, and the rear bumper was replaced by a newer 1957 Ford Thunderbird bumper. Side pipes ran down the body sides, and the door handles were shaved and replaced by Lincoln push-buttons.The interior was done in rolled and pleated black Naugahyde, and a custom instrument panel was fit with Stewart-Warner gauges. The chassis was modified in order to lower the car. Heavy duty suspension, traction masters and a posh-traction rear was installed along with a 400hp full race 1958 Oldsmobile engine. The engine featured 6 2-barrel carbs.[2]

The Third Version

The second version of Don's Thunderbird won many top awards, but at the 10th annual Hartford Autorama indoor show Don debuted a third version of the car. The third version featured a radically restyled front end featuring a brand new grille opening incorporating dual headlamps from a 1960 Chevrolet. After completing the bodywork, the body was painted with 16 coats of red lacquer. The hardtop was cream speckled with gold. The car was still upholstered in black Naugahyde seats and a black, piled rug flecked with gold dust. The dash sported Stewart Warner gauges and a white radiotelephone. The full race 1958 Oldsmobile 461 cubic-inch engine still lured under the hood. Don's Thunderbird did the flying mile at 164 mph, standing quarter-mile in 12.4 seconds. When the car was featured in Mechanix Illustrated April 1962 it had supposedly won 182 trophies in car shows throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. By then, Don was also living in Paramus, New Jersey.[3]

Magazine Features

Rodding and Re-styling July 1960
Rodding and Re-styling August 1960
Car Craft September 1961
Car Craft February 1962
Mechanix Illustrated April 1962
Kustoms Illustrated 23


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Woody Higgins
  2. The 1960 Hartford Autorama Souvenir Program
  3. Mechanix Illustrated April 1962


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